My Writing Year – 2014

Due to circumstances beyond my control (genuinely and very frustratingly) I found myself unable to continue with the sequel to Turn of the Tide in the first half of 2014. However a combination of other activities and some encouragements fuelled the writing bug and I focused on what could be achieved.

The edited highlights…

Receiving my (rather attractive) trophy for 3rd place in the Rubery Short Story competition – and the subsequent publication of the anthology in which the story
In Shah’Allah appears.

Rubery Short Story Award 2013
Rubery Short Story Award 2013
Screenshot 2015-01-09 15.34.54

My writing year started not with writing, but with a performance workshop. Aimed at writers to help them read more effectively at book events, it was a day well spent. I was so impressed I have talked my local writers group into paying for the voice coach, Alex Gillon, to come to the Borders to do a session this year. The most important things I learned?

– 1) To widen my register, adding in lower notes when appropriate.
– 2) To pick out and emphasise key words.
I hope I’m doing better now – I’ll find out in June when I’ll hopefully be put through my paces again as one of the group’s ‘guinea-pigs’.

The workshop training was put to good use at events – Rotary Clubs and the WRI (Women’s Rural Institute). I almost perfected my Long Road to Publication PowerPoint, but there’s always room to ‘tweak’ – particularly good displacement activity as it is (of course) writing related!

Keeping my writing ambitions alive by meeting with some author friends to discuss both techniques and marketing – not my forte, but just having the contact was so useful for me. The group is called Scribblers a name I think I’ll have to lobby to change as it causes such merriment among my nearest and dearest…

With still no opportunity to work on my novel I managed a little short story writing / editing and visited a couple of Book Groups who had chosen Turn of the Tide for their monthly read. Great to get positive feedback and (thank you Carole Norris) a lovely supper and to be able to share, in an informal setting, a little of my writing journey and future plans. Very interesting to hear some quite unexpected comments – things folk found in the book that I hadn’t realised were there!

May is always my busiest work month but this year, due to changes in the exam procedures in Scotland I was able to confine my working to normal office hours. Other circumstances having changed too, I should have been able to get back on track with the sequel, but found that I’d been away from it for so long (almost a year) that picking up the threads again was going to be extraordinarily difficult.

However I had something else to focus on – May was the voting period for the final of the People’s Book Prize and it was both nerve-wracking and exciting. I was in line both for the Adult Fiction prize (12 finalists) and the Beryl Bainbridge Award for Best 1st Time Author (c 20 finalists). There was no way of knowing how the voting was going, except by looking at the numbers of comments and reviews put up on the site. I found it both humbling and incredibly encouraging to find more than 100 people took the time to express their pleasure at reading my book. It would have been worth it just for that. (Now if some of them would only cut and paste their comments onto Amazon…)

The venue was the fabulous Stationer’s Hall in Central London, so really atmospheric – and surprisingly I was actually able to eat the meal – despite the nervousness. When the declarations came I was at first disappointed to be pipped at the post for the Adult Fiction Prize, but in the end delighted to find that I’d won the Beryl Bainbridge Award especially when I found out that no-one could take more than one award. winners2103 banner copy It is lovely to be associated with such a good writer. And rather nice to have a second (also very tasteful) trophy to decorate the top of my piano.

Borders Book Festival takes place every year in June and no, sadly I wasn’t appearing on my own account, but I was invited to chair an ‘In conversation with’ event for Robyn Young – a fabulous, internationally acclaimed HF writer, whose most recent books are a series on Robert the Bruce. Screenshot 2015-01-09 16.17.09 Sitting in a marquee a stone’s throw away from the Abbey where it’s thought his heart is buried and on a date close to the anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, it was a lovely experience, and Robyn is a lovely person, it was an honour to be asked.

Very much a family month, writing was put totally on hold…

I began the process of working myself back into the sequel by re-reading Turn of the Tide – you’d think I’d know it off by heart anyway, but somehow I needed to find the tone and voice all over again. And to flex my writing muscle I polished several short stories and sent them off.

I had been looking forward to September for months – and to the Historical Novel Society conferenceScreenshot 2015-01-09 20.40.09 in London. If anything was going to give me the shot in the arm I needed it was that. And it did – in spades. This time (my second attendance) I knew some folk before I went, but it was also lovely to finally meet in person lots of online friends. Great seminars and keynote speeches and a fun era quiz – though I’m sure the result was rigged – medieval should have won… I also found some folk who agreed to shout at me from time to time to check I was writing – exactly what I needed.
Perhaps most significant of all, an unexpected chat with a literary agent and advice which has radically changed the course of the dreaded sequel. I just hope I made the right decision.

Another PowerPoint presentation – to a large audience at a Probus meeting; making the shortlist for another short story competition (Booktown Writers) – that story will appear in their anthology at some stage this year; and most importantly of all – the offer of an empty cottage as a writing space, which Screenshot 2014-12-11 08.49.07 although somewhat spartan – a chair, a (small) table, a kettle, a microwave and a portable gas heater and importantly NO internet – had me raring to go… I even had a working title – A House Divided.

And rather like one of Pavlov’s dogs, each day as I drove up the narrow single track road towards the cottage I found my brain switching into sequel mode. However the lay-off had been so long that my first task was to edit what was already written, so for the first couple of weeks my word count decreased steadily – and that has to be good!

In October I was busy, busy, with my first invitation to speak at a Literary Festival AND be paid. Screenshot 2015-01-09 16.42.52 I was somewhat apprehensive in case no-one turned up, but fortunately there was a good audience, most of whom I didn’t know and it seemed to go well. (Well enough to be asked to speak again next year, so quite chuffed.)

Two days later I was off to Northern Ireland to spend several days giving talks in schools,
Screenshot 2015-01-09 20.58.48 Screenshot 2015-01-09 20.59.18 Screenshot 2015-01-09 21.21.56
Sullivan Upper (my old school), Wallace High and Friends School.
A new experience for me and one I thoroughly enjoyed. The age range was 9-17 and it was so rewarding to see classrooms and lecture theatres packed full of kids giving me rapt attention as I talked about Creative Writing, Macbeth and Becoming an Author – not all at once of course!
The week opened and ended with visits to Sullivan, finishing with their Prize Day and the inauguration of a Creative Writing prize which my father endowed to celebrate my becoming a published author. How lovely was that? I wish I’d been sufficiently organised to take a picture.
And the icing on the cake: a finalist in another short story competition – a good end to the month.

With writing going well and the word count now increasing I found myself on borrowed time at the cottage as the builders’ arrival was imminent. But as the weather became colder I managed to use an entire cylinder of gas in the heater and learnt that it’s perfectly possible to write with a hot water bottle on your knees and wearing several layers of jumpers plus a hat, a scarf, and fingerless gloves. It may even help when imagining life in a 16th century tower house…
The big excitement though, was my first ever Amazon Free Promotion of the Kindle version of Turn of the Tide. It reached No 6 (UK) and No 3 (US) in the Free Kindle listings overall and after the end of the promotion stayed in the top 100 of various sub-categories for several weeks. A staggering 41,600+ folk downloaded a copy during the promotion, time will tell whether it will translate into extra sales, but it has already resulted in some extra reviews. I was warned by many other writers to brace myself for a 1* review… Screenshot 2014-11-08 19.48.32 Screenshot 2014-11-18 00.51.55

And here it is – amusingly not really a review at all, simply saying ‘Have not read it yet.’ I asked Amazon and they took it down, maybe I should have just left it… Screenshot 2014-11-26 07.51.42

November is also ‘Previously’ month, an annual history festival with over 100 events running in various towns and cities across the south of Scotland. I was asked to run two writers’ workshops – one in Edinburgh and one in St Andrews – a particular pleasure for me as that was where I went to University. Apart from the fact that the Himalyas (putting green) isn’t open all year round, so that I couldn’t re-visit that most important aspect of my Uni career, and it was a tad cold to indulge in Janetta’s ice cream (choice of c 50 flavours), it was great to be back.

And so to December
Home again, home again, jiggedy-jig. Can I work as well at home as in splendid isolation? I’m not sure, but I have made some changes that hopefully will help. A little bit of re-organisation (well quite a lot of humping and hauling by my better half actually, especially of big bookcases), and I now have a dedicated writing space which is warm and comfortable, but still with internet connection, so great discipline will be required. (I re-sited the router away from the room but still get quite a good signal – at least I tried.)
I have set myself a new target and will try to keep to it…watch this space. And anyone who wishes to help by nagging me about how I’m getting on will be much appreciated!